They call it "a different brand of baseball," and this year the Oakland Athletics brand is young, new, and still keeping it real in the true spirit of Oaktown. The A's home opener Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays offers the great American pastime and a multitude of possible scenarios. This isn't the polished, commercialized baseball you might find elsewhere; it's an old-fashioned stadium experience under rickety lights with an assortment of rowdy fans and a team with real personality.
The A's take pride in the fact that there is a family-friendly feeling in the newly named McAfee Coliseum, and this year's opening includes home-plate ceremonies that highlight community heroes. Bobby Crosby will be presented with the 2004 Rookie of the Year award, and Eric Chavez with his fourth Gold Glove. According to the A's, the festivities will resemble a "premiere."
Meanwhile, an air of heavy anticipation surrounds this season. The A's traded away two of their "Big Three" pitchers, and with only one remaining -- left-hander Barry Zito -- nobody knows what to expect from the revamped rotation. But general manager Billy Moneyball Beane has always been crafty in keeping the A's competitive on a low budget, applying the legendary Sabermetrics to player analysis and proving that baseball is a game not just for juiced-up sluggers, but for statistics geeks. According to front-office spokesman Mike Selleck, this season the A's will "focus on on-base percentage," as before, and on developing their new talent, whom he says "may be just as good" as the ones they traded. Bottom line: "It's going to be interesting." One way or another.
Fan Phil Bailey of Richmond likes the A's because they can't afford to pay prima donnas, so they have nice kids who "play with heart." His favorites are Eric Byrnes and catcher Jason Kendall, who is "actually athletic." Swisher? "He's got a swagger." Chavez? "He can hit, he can field ... and he gave his golden glove to his coach!" Judy Rosen, a fan from Lafayette, has been going to games with her father since her childhood. She maintains that the Coliseum is more fun than SBC Park because "it's easier to park, the weather is nicer, and you can tailgate at the games." But she is nervous about this coming season: "I hope they make trades to get a stronger bullpen."
Enter Keiichi Yabu, a celebrated pitcher from Japan and the first Japanese player in A's history to reach the starting lineup. The 36-year-old veteran was pinched from the Osaka Hanshin Tigers, and has been competing for a spot in the rotation during spring training. Yabu could be instrumental in bringing in a new Asian-American fan base. According to reports, he has been getting to know his team largely through an interpreter, but fellow pitcher Rich Harden has been teaching him an English phrase or two, and Harden has even expressed interest in Japanese culture by eating sushi every day in the off-season.
You can watch the wacky guitar-playing photographer-pitcher Zito and the rest of the boys of summer, beginning Monday at 7:05 p.m. And as usual this season, Wednesday games are only $2. What's not to love?
For more info, visit OaklandAthletics.com
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